Fresh off the release of his debut full-length, the London producer discusses what went into the album, the current state of UK funky, what's happening with his Blunted Robots label, and more.
"It's definitely the thing I'm most passionate about, the... I'm going to have to say 'hardcore continuum,' aren't I?" says Brackles (a.k.a. Rob Kemp) with a smirk. Quickly realizing there's a way to phrase things without relying on a clichéd term, he says, "The line that's gone through garage to grime to dubstep to funky. I like house music, I like a lot of other kinds of music, but this is what I understand." That understanding is a big part of what’s led the 26-year-old UK producer toward becoming one of the most popular DJs on London’s storied Rinse FM, where Brackles has held down a weekly slot since October 2009. The former pirate outpost clearly has a lot of faith in him, as it’s just released Rinse Presents Brackles, the artist’s debut full-length and one of only handful of original artist albums to have come out on the label.
The album was actually in the works for quite some time. "They asked me pretty soon after I was doing a regular show if I was interested in doing it," he says. "It was quite a daunting prospect because I only had a few singles out, but it definitely seemed like a good opportunity that I couldn't turn down." In the end, Brackles spent about three years putting the album together, and while he's always been a deliberate producer, he credits most of the delay to his desire to work with vocalists. "It's not something I've ever done before," he says. "And getting that right, finding the right people, and also writing/making the right kind of tunes for them to sing over is a skill I've had to learn, because you can't just send them any old beat and have them sing over it. It's got to be structured in the right way." The effort appears to have paid off, as the album's guest vocalists—many of whom Brackles first heard on other records he was playing on Rinse—sound natural over his signature shuffling drum patterns and syncopated rhythms. In truth, although Brackles' style has certainly evolved in recent years, it hasn't actually changed much, especially as compared to the music being turned out by his contemporaries in the world of what's now being called bass music. Where that scene continues to operate in a near-constant state of flux, consistently birthing up new musical permutations, Brackles' sound still exists in a place where clear lines can be drawn to garage, grime, and UK funky.
The latter genre is particularly interesting, as UK funky is a sound that pundits often refer to as though it was a thing of the past. Brackles feels otherwise, stating that the funky scene in London remains strong and citing people like Champion, Funkystepz, DJ Naughty, X5 Dubs, and Formula as artists pushing the sound forward. "Funky is not what it was in 2008," he says. "It doesn't really sound derivative of house anymore, it's its own thing. There aren't a great deal of producers doing it, but it's kind of mutated into something else. People like Funkystepz and Champion, I don't think you can really hear a lot of the house in their tunes. It's closer to grime, and crosses over into that." Of course, Brackles himself is also one of the artists involved in this mutation, and UK funky continues to play a major role in his music. "I wouldn't say I'm a funky DJ," he explains, "but I play a lot of funky and grime and I just have an aesthetic for a set that should be quite energetic and quite quick with the mixing. The idea of me playing deep-house records doesn't really work in that context."
Interestingly enough, this commitment to developing established UK sounds, as opposed to striving to invent new ones or simply jumping ship and playing more straightforward house and techno, has placed Brackles on a bit of a stylistic island. Brackles puts it simply, "In 2008, everyone was on a kind of similar tip, but I think everyone has kind of found their own vision now." He's even found himself musically estranged from his Blunted Robots partner in crime, Mickey Pearce (a.k.a. Rich Attley, who used to produce as Shortstuff ). Those looking for personal drama will be disappointed, as the two best friends still hang out all the time and watch football together, but the future of the imprint they co-founded is currently in doubt. "Me and Rich haven't heard anything that we've been that enthused about for a year or so since the Dark Sky record. One day, we were both like, 'We've run out of steam.' For the minute, we're kind of leaving [Blunted Robots] as it is. I say this, and we might hear a record that would be perfect and change our minds, but [the label] is wrapped up for the time being."
In fairness, the two producers have never seen completely eye to eye, even when they first met in college at age 18. "I met Rich on the first day. He had the Dizzee Rascal album and the biggest bong I think I'd seen at that point in my life." Brackles continues, "I was into garage, and he was into drum & bass. For a good year, Rich hated pretty much everything I played. Then, one day, I think I brainwashed him too much and he was like, 'I like Todd Edwards records,' which I never thought I would achieve." Nowadays, these kinds of shared musical loves are proving harder to come by for the pair, especially now that Pearce has linked up with Loefah's Swamp81 camp and begun to release tunes with a harder and darker slant than his previous output as Shortstuff.
Granted, it isn't as though Brackles has been abandoned; he too has been pursuing his own musical interests, finishing the album and taking on an increasingly prominent role at Rinse. After years spent on Thursday afternoons, he was recently moved to a coveted evening slot on Mondays from 7 to 9 p.m. Furthermore, Brackles' growth at Rinse has coincided with the station's transformation from rogue pirate to legitimate radio outlet, something he sees as a positive thing. "It's a lot more professional down there now," he says. "The studio's a lot nicer. You can't bring beers in, stuff like that. There are also producers on the shows, [and there are] more broadcast assistants now." More importantly, even with the spruced-up environment and more professional atmosphere, the programming of Brackles' show has been left in his hands, as he continues to select all of the music. Perhaps that's why he's so confident in saying, "In the case of the specialist DJs like myself, I don't think it's necessarily changed that much. I don't think you can hear that we've got a broadcast assistant. It's not like we've been asked to run features or anything like that. I think my show is generally the same as when I started, except my presenting is hopefully better than three years ago."
One could make the argument that Brackles' production has also improved significantly during the past three years, and it's certainly something he plans to continue. The songs on Rinse Presents Brackles may be new to most, but he's been working on them—and playing them out—for years, to the point where he's admittedly a bit bored with them. As such, he's eager to continue making music, even if he doesn't know quite what it will sound like. "I have no idea what's going to happen when I sit down to make music," he explains. "I never have an idea for a tune. I have to catch a vibe and then whatever happens. An hour and a half later, I'll have something. There's never any kind of goal. It is what it is." It's a laid-back approach, but following his instincts appears to have served Brackles well so far. As he moves ahead, it's hard to find fault in him continuing to do so.
Rinse Presents Brackles is out now.